|To: Any interested former members of the 191st Field Artillery (especially C Battery)
From: Barrett J. Whiteley (C Btry, Oct. 1942 to May, 1945 – Service Btry, May to November, 1945)
SERVICE IN ETO
In February of 1987, I was able to spend 2 ½ days at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., researching WWII activities in areas of interest to the 191st. I have always realized that our view of the war was limited. I was anxious to know why certain actions took place and what was happening outside our small sector of action. Perhaps some of my notes will interest others of you who were also involved.
Who Won The War?
In a 1956 history of the U.S. Army, the author, R. Ernest Depuy, quotes Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., as saying, “I do not have to tell you who won the war – you know our artillery did.” This may be an overstatement, but is nice to be appreciated.
Members of the 191 will remember that in 1942 the Regiment was eliminated and the two battalions became independent – 191 and 959. Thereafter, we operated as separate battalions, with the next higher unit being a F A Group. Author Russell F. Weigly wrote about this decision by General Leslie J. McNair in a 1967 history book:
To ensure the flexibility of this plan, McNair proposed that all troops not organized into divisions should be formed into permanent units of the smallest size compatible with efficiency. Then such small interchangeable units could be shuttled into and out of corps and armies in just the quantity that any situation demanded. If an occasion arose to use a large mass of non-divisional combat troops, three or four battalions could be brought together in a group. But the group was a tactical organization only, each battalion was supposed to remain self-sufficient in administration and supply, and the group was not a permanent formation.
You will remember that the 191st supported several divisions (principally the Fourth Armored, but also the Fifth and Thirty-fifth Infantry, among others). We were also under the 192nd, 193rd and 177th F.A. Groups. At times, while with the Fourth Armored, the batteries were even separated to support different “combat commands.”
Each member’s personal record at the end of WWII showed that he was entitled to four battle stars: Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe, Northern France, and Rhineland.
I was surprised to find that the 191st F.A Bn. was given another award five years later. The information is recorded in Dept. of the Army Pamphlet 672-1, “Unit Citations and Campaign Participation Credit Register,” published by Hdqrs, Dept. of the Army, July, 1961.
According to this register, the French Croix de Guerre was issued to the 191st Field Artillery Battalion for action between 12-29 Sept., 1944. The official announcement of this award is found in Department of the Army General Orders 43, dated 1950. I did not have time while in Washington to pursue this matter, but any individual using the information above may direct inquiries to: The Adjutant General (Attn: AGPS-AD). I have other addresses pursuant to this which I will gladly supply if anyone is interested.
30 Days in Wales
I remember well that throughout the 30 days we spent in the camp at Llanover, Wales (near Abergavenny), Col. Goddard was being questioned daily about the plans for our battalion. He couldn’t give us any specifics – not only because of security, but because no one in higher echelons seemed to know what was going on. To illustrate, I quote General Lentz, XII Corps Artillery Commander, to whose command the 191st belonged at that time. “I had 48 battalions scattered all over England and I did not know where some of them were.”
In May if 1987, Eleanor and I visited the site of our camp at Llanover, Wales. I had remembered that our Nissen huts were scattered around through a landscape dotted with trees, with sufficient space between for all the buildings. What I was not prepared for on our 1987 visit was a thick forest of trees! Caretakers of the 2000-acre Herbert Estate (where we were encamped) explained that the buildings were torn down, the concrete slabs were covered with straw, a forest of trees were planted, and the undergrowth was encouraged to cover the scene.
I have taken pictures of the area. One picture shows open fields beside the (new) forest. Another shows the undergrowth and the forest of trees. Underneath that brush is straw (it can be seen if you examine the picture carefully). I carped it aside and underneath I found the slabs where the buildings had been.
Lt. Col. George Dyer, writing for the XII Corps History Assn., published an excellent book in 1947, entitled, “XII Corps: Spearhead of Patton’s Third Army.” In it, he says, “Twelfth Corps history in combat would have been a far different story without XII Corps Artillery blasting holes through enemy defenses for the armor and infantry when the going got tough.” He adds, “Corps Artillery was the hammer that drove the steel spikes of XII Corps into the coffin of the Third Reich.”
If that isn’t enough to make us proud, listen to these words of Col. Dyer: “Among the F.A. Bns listed for England, it would be impossible to pass over without mention such hard-hitting outfits as the 191st F.A. Bn. and the 267 F.A. Bn. These were to be among those magnificent dispensers of firepower-in-the-rough which supplied the XII Corps Sunday punch all the way from the Beach to Bavaria.”
In his book on the XII Corps, Col. Dyer reports the following Letter of Commendation from Brig. Gen. John Lentz (the same one who couldn’t find us in Wales).
“1. The performance of Corps Artillery battalions in recent operations has been outstanding.
- They have been out in front generally. Many have been under small arms fire with no thought of withdrawal. One medium battalion laid directly on hostile assault guns. The observers of another, in the absence of infantry or other troops, fired charge I at tanks over a low crest, turning back the tank attack only after two direct hits were made on tanks within 200 yards of the observers.”
Surely everyone who was at C Btry that day will remember when the order was given to shift right, over 1600 mils! I won’t forget how you moved those 155s around as though they were toys. Everyone realized the urgency of a low trajectory Charge I. The target had to be close at hand! Some you may remember that we could actually watch those slow moving shells in flight. As I remember it, 1st Lt. Roy Bullock (from B Btry) was the observer, but I’m open to correction.
Two side-notes to history concerning that event:
- Lt. Col. Creighton Abrams was heading the combat command whose advance we were in position to support. The column returned and entered into one of the great tank battles of the European war. That engagement, which our side won, with the destruction of 60 to 80 of the Germans’ newest and best tanks, stamped Col. Abrams for greatness. He later led all our forces in Vietnam, and before his early death from cancer, he had risen to Army Chief of Staff.
- The original panzer attack was ordered by Hitler himself, who had fired a general and ordered his replacement to attack and to “annihilate” all American troops in that area. The “new” commander was Gen von Manteuffel, who was to show up later in the Battle of the Bulge.
Understanding the Facts
Some light has been shed on events by post-war military historians. Unfortunately, events which historians may have thought were insignificant, loom very large in the eyes of the participants. For example: The ETO Hdqrs published a book called, “Attack: Footsteps of the 35th!” It speaks of the fall of Troyes with these words. “Backed by the 35th doughs, armored spearheads took Troyes and completed the sweep around Paris. The heart of France was now liberated.” I have read all the unit histories available at the Library of Congress and have found no details about the taking of Troyes, with the exception of “The History of the 191st Field Artillery Battalion” (which, incidentally, is available for reading at the Library of Congress).
The 191 history records that C Btry was attached to the 66th F.A. Bn of the Fourth Armored Division on 24 Aug, 1944, and became part of the “North Column.” Some of you may be able to recall riding the prime movers in utter darkness through thick woods both before and after crossing the Seine that night. We could hear occasional machine gun blasts, and we were crawling along behind Sherman tanks equipped with dozer blades. After coming into the open fields, we drew ourselves into a wagon-train circle of defense until it was light enough to deploy and to start firing on troops escaping from the city. We were in enemy held territory at the time, but the Nazis had their hands full saving their own necks. I remember that we rejoined the battalion for the attack on Vitry Le /Francois.
Here is another example of understatement (from “The 4th Armored Division from the Beach to Bavaria” by Kenneth A. Koyen). “On the way to Hersfeld the division met a smatter of enemy armor for the first time since crossing the Rhine. Hersfeld, 25 miles northeast of Lautenbach, surrendered the afternoon of March 30 to CCB.” It is significant that the history of the 191st Field Artillery Battalion records the death of Wayne D. McClary (Headquarters Btry) on the next day, March 31, in Hersfeld. There is more to the story. The German officer who surrendered the city either practiced deliberate deception as a trap, or did not have command of the troops he claimed to be surrendering. As told by those who witnessed the events at the autobahn just outside the city, Col. Abrams sent troops in after the “surrender.” Among them was a jeep containing Maj. Harvard Smith. “Mac” McLary was his driver. As I remember it, a C Btry jeep was also there, but I am not sure who was in it. The occupants of the jeep came upon one of the first Shermans to enter, parked on a street. They did not realize that a single armor-piercing shell from a Tiger tank had entered it from the front and killed the entire crew. As the occupants of the jeeps got out to investigate, the same tank fired on them. All except Sgt. McLary escaped by running through the basement of a house and then running all the way to the autobahn. Witnesses told me shortly thereafter that Col. Abrams, stunned by the deception, pointed to the city of Hersfeld and ordered, “Burn it!” Since my evidence is hearsay, I cannot vouch for that part of the story. Perhaps others who read this may have more evidence. I do know that a heavy artillery barrage ensued. Shortly after this severe pounding of the city was concluded, I entered the city, saw the disabled tank, and viewed McLary’s body where he fell, a few feet from his jeep. However insignificant such events may be to others, they are never minor events to the participants.
Mud, Mud Everywhere
The Fall months of 1944 bring memories of rain and mud. 1944, 6.95 inches of rain fell during the month, “The average monthly precipitation in Lorraine during September, October, and November is between 2.4 and 3.0 inches. In the autumn of 1944, however, the rain which fell on the underlying Lorraine clay was two and three times the amount usually recorded. In November, 1944, 6.95 inches of rain fell during the month.” But rain alone didn’t account for all the mud. On November 8, the Third Army stated an offensive. After a long, heavy barrage by our artillery, the attack began, but slowed down quickly because of mud. Our battalion was later to experience this med as we moved to new positions near Hoeville, France. The med was not caused solely by rain. Let Col. Dyer tell the story.
“Part of our troops, consisting of the advance elements of our Main Line of Resistance, were on the East side of the Seille River in the section between Nancy and Chateau Salins and the rear elements were on the West side. (Note: 191st was 1500 yards forward of Leyr – on the West bank). The Etang de Lindre was formed by a dam up the river near Dieuz (in German territory), which if blown would flood the entire river valley. We were afraid that if we crossed all our troops, the Krauts would blow this dam and cut us off, so it was decided that we should blow it, control the flood waters, and thus it would no longer be a danger to our troops and would eliminate the element of surprise.” P47s were called upon to blow the dam. They were successful, and now you know why you waded through mud at the time.
There are many more stories – covering all our time in Europe. Someday, perhaps, I can compile them in better order. Meanwhile, those of you who were there are welcome to copy and distribute these remarks if you desire. I would welcome your own personal anecdotes on your experiences. Obviously, my own recollections are subject to forgetfulness or fancy and published histories don’t tell the entire story either. It would be helpful if you will correct me, where necessary and add your own viewpoint.